Cavemen come into vogue every now and then. From the silly Geico “so easy” commercials to serious diet choices, Americans don’t mind identifying with the scraggily cave dwellers of millennia ago. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since, on an evolutionary scale, we aren’t that far removed from them. Oh, we have more highly developed social, economic and governance structures. We dress better, live more grandly and bathe a lot more often. In fact, our entire hygiene regimen beats theirs clubs down. But, those differences are superficial. Underneath it all, we are still pretty much them. And if Darwin is right, it’s past time to get back to some caveman basics.
Evolution is one of the most flexible theories of modern science, often bending like a pretzel to accommodate nonconforming reality. But, Darwin’s brainchild does have some constants. Primary among them is, of course, survival. Initially, it was survival of the individual but that didn’t explain altruistic behavior, conscious or otherwise. So, it became survival of the group. Did I mention that the theory is flexible?
Anyway, group survival, practiced by our cave inhabiting predecessors, meant selfless individuals worked for the benefit of the group, even to the point of death. The work and the sacrifice were done to make the whole safer, stronger and, hence, better able to survive the vicissitudes of Paleolithic life. Actions that lessen the chances of group survival are counter-evolutionary, which leads naturally to species extinction. Since the caveman period lasted many millennia, counter-evolutionary deeds occurred infrequently, if at all. (As an aside, one wonders how the altruistic gene itself survived and there’s a theory twist for that, too. But, it’s a topic for another discussion.)
Today, some ten thousand years after our ancestors completed the metamorphosis into farmers, we find ourselves in the throes of counter-evolutionary lunacy. We live in a world of short-term gain at the cost of long-term survival and we’re loving it. Short-term-itis has crept into many aspects of modern society. We gorge ourselves at the dinner table while assiduously avoiding bothersome exercise and extend ourselves over our credit limits like there’s no tomorrow. And there won’t be unless we reel in our excesses in a quick hurry.
For America, the worst of these excesses is the national debt we’ve managed to accumulate in a relatively short period of time. It’s ballooned like the waistline of a Mickey D’s gourmand. Political machinations aside, social welfare expenditures are the main reasons for the debt explosion over the past fifty years. An associated indirect cost is the expansion of government to regulate them. Yes, from time to time, other factors have contributed to the debt on a temporary basis, like defense spending. But, the constant, and ever-expanding, contributors are subsidies to individuals and the costly growth of government that sustains them.
Unfortunately, in the face of this massive indebtedness (over $16 trillion by year’s end) our society has not survived to thrive. It merely grows increasingly dependent on a shrinking pool of those who work to support the group. And the debt grows ever greater. For those observing it from this side of the pond, the Greece example is nothing short of breathtaking. These people have lived above their collective means for so long that every vestige of rational thought has departed the national consciousness. After last week’s Greek election, the victors declared that the European bailout terms should be relaxed just because a pro-bailout party won.
Are they kidding? They have yet to bite any part of the bullet fired at them by long years of uncontrolled profligacy. Still they expect a tangible reward for merely agreeing in principle to start living small. If they were children, their parents would show them the error of their immature ways. But, they are just being childish instead and have no parents.
For our part, ludicrous, self-serving political blather has almost completely supplanted rational thought. We haven’t seen a federal budget since 2009 while the national debt grew more in Obama’s first 38 months than in 8 years under George W. If we stay this course, economic forecasters predict the end of life as we know it before 2030. Today, there is no realistic plan anywhere near a drawing board that can avert the looming train wreck.
Cavemen existed for over 100,000 years sans group debt. Our society has been around for less than 240 years and we’re drowning in it. There’s a lesson in the difference. Will debt reduction be painful? Yes. Will it be popular? No. Do our politicians have the strength of character to pull it off by themselves? No again. Ultimately, debt reduction will be forced, or not, by a group currently in love with short-term-itis.
There’s a larger than life prospect that society will still be plagued by the disease right up until the lights burn out on it. If that happens, it’ll just be Darwinian theory, with all of its convenient twists and turns, in practice. Where’s a caveman when you need him?
See you in the mirror.